You once pointed out that I always write stories about dead people.
“Everyone’s dead in your stories,” you said. “Everyone’s sad, or dying, or living in a city that’s haunted by creepy ghost children with snakes in their hair.”
I said, “So?” and you said, “Nothing. Just an observation.”
And then I told you that your face was “just an observation,” and you told me that my mother’s face was an observation and then you immediately took it back because who are you kidding, we both know you love my mother and that she thinks you’re delightful too.
I never told you this, but your dumb observation got to me, and so I tried to write you a story that didn’t involve the dead, or the sad, or the dying, but it ended up being really boring, and I hated it, and I hated you for making me feel like I had to write it, and I ended up turning it into a story wherein a brave young woman unleashes a horde of creepy ghost children onto a tiresome young man who fails to believe in her ability to summon the supernatural. I ended up throwing it away, because Blatant Metaphor Monthly isn’t accepting submissions, and also because I had an actual English paper to write titled “Miss Havisham: Cake Wreck.”
Anyway, when you left my house the other night I didn’t really know what to say. I know we’ve been texting but I also know that we’re doing that gross thing that people do when they need to have a conversation but can’t bring themselves to do anything but Instagram, like, seashells or empty chairs. You posted nine pictures of gum-stained sidewalks and I posted seven blurry pictures of the moon. I don’t know. I just think it’s never a good sign when best friends start posting crappy pictures at the same time. Two sets of eyes, one looking up, one looking down, ignoring everything in between.
So we have a few options, I guess. We could keep courtesy-texting until one of us goes mad and ends up in Havisham territory. We could talk in person, though that didn’t go so well last time. We could talk to each other on the phone, though I’d hope we’re not at the point where we’d actually force such a horror on one another. As you know, the last time we talked on the phone it lasted for approximately three minutes, two of which were spent talking about how much we hated talking on the phone. The last minute was broken into 30 seconds of you holding your phone up to the television so I could see my favorite commercial, the bizarro one for Lucky Larry’s Furniture Firepit, “where the prices are smokin’ hot,” and 30 seconds of both of us laughing and saying goodnight too many times.
That was a pretty good minute. I would like to have a few more of those minutes. So I’ll do what I always do when I can’t figure out how to explain myself like an actual human being. I’ll tell you a story about dead people.
Oh, and this one is true.
My parents bought the Forsythia Inn when I was 11, about two years after my dad got into a pretty nasty car accident that led him down about eight epiphany lanes. He broke an arm and both legs; the drunk driver that hit him went unscathed, though he lost a good bit of his bank account in the settlement.
My father tried to see signs in the accident: it was, he claimed, The Universe’s way of telling him to slow down, and the settlement money was the ticket to a new way of living. This is something I have realized that my parents do when they’re scared; they rationalize things by being completely irrational. They pick and choose when to believe in fate and when to cling to faith, ignoring it until it’s necessary. It’s like Advil or some shit, kept for emergencies in the back of the medicine cabinet and popped every four to six hours until the pain goes away. Before the accident, the only time I’d ever heard my parents talk about the universe as some important entity was when I was five and they were arguing over whether I was too young to watch Star Wars.
Willem West Roberts opened the Forsythia Inn in 1923. He’d made a fortune selling Vitabelle bars, these nasty protein-type bars that were “guaranteed to unleash the beauty within.” Known on the streets as “chalk rockets,” the bars—which were supposed to improve a woman’s looks through the combined powers of powdered milk and vitamins—became popular with criminals, who used them to break windows and then poured water on them so as to erase the evidence. Roberts sold them by the case until the cops shut him down for “suspicious activity.” Claiming he had no idea that his product was being used for “such vulgarity,” he quickly left New York City and moved to Waitsfield, VT, where he opened the inn with his wife, Leticia, and there they stayed until they died, in 1957 and 1964, respectively. They had one daughter, Augustine, who was born in 1928 and died in 1943. You would have liked Augustine. I know, because she and I shared a room for three and a half years.
Two years ago, my parents announced at dinner that we were leaving the Forsythia. “The winters are too hard,” my mother said. “It’s impossible to keep this place warm.”
My father had tired of running a business, and felt like The Universe was once again telling him to move on, when an old college friend of my mother offered her a great job doing design work—her first love—in the city. “Your mom followed my dream and now I’ll follow hers,” he said. “And honestly? I’m really sick of talking to people who are amazed by the changing leaves on the trees.”
“I think we’re all tired of playing host,” my mother agreed.
Augustine was floating in the corner of the dining room during this entire conversation, her entire body in the air and her eyes on the ground.